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I am performing a science project, and this involves knowing the average operating altitude at which commercial passenger airplanes (jetliners) fly.

I am trying to find minimum operating altitudes and maximum operating altitudes of commercial airliners so that I can estimate an average operating altitude. Unfortunately, I can't find any documentation/papers/articles on the FAA website which give information on this. All I can find are blog articles and other informal articles, but I need something more concrete and formal to cite. Can anyone help?

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    $\begingroup$ Related: Why are many jet aircraft designed to cruise around FL350-370? $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Mar 17 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ Depending on what you are going to use it for an average altitude may not be very useful. A bit like saying the average age of a human is 37. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Mar 17 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ In my case, the average is perfectly OK. $\endgroup$
    – inquiries
    Mar 17 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ Still, just averaging the minimum and maximum may not give a good representation of where the majority of airplanes fly. For example in the graph below if we take the minimum to be 8000 and the max to be 39000 the average is 23 but there’s maybe one point on the graph at 23. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Mar 17 at 3:59
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    $\begingroup$ I would assume the minimum operating level is right around 0 AGL. $\endgroup$
    – tedder42
    Mar 18 at 5:43

1 Answer 1

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RE "but I need something more concrete and formal to cite":

I salute you.

You can cite: Jones, Todd. Statistical data for the Boeing-747-400 aircraft in commercial operations. US Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Aviation Research, 2005. (PDF on ntis.gov)

Based on over 11,000 flights by the 747-400:

enter image description here

You're looking at a mean of 35,000 feet pressure altitude, aka flight level 350.

Similar reports are available for other types. The most popular (by numbers) jetliner nowadays is the Airbus A320:

enter image description here
— Rustenburg, John W., Donald A. Skinn, and Daniel O. Tipps. Statistical loads data for the airbus a-320 aircraft in commercial operations. DAYTON UNIV OH STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY DIV, 2002. (PDF; dtic.mil)

As you can see, for flights longer than 500 nautical miles, most of the time is spent between 29,500 and 39,500 feet.

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    $\begingroup$ I salute you for digging up real science numbers. $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Mar 17 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ I have unlurked and finally joined this community, solely to award this question/answer pair an upvote. +1 for citations. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Wright
    Mar 17 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ The guy who thought it was a good idea to exclusively use black markers for various overlapping data points on a single graph with blue grid needs to be thrown out of a plane at FL350. $\endgroup$
    – Opifex
    Mar 17 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Opifex not just black markers, but also two, very similar dashed lines… $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Mar 17 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ The real problem is that the markers and lines are the same color. The two dashed lines differing only in one being bolder is a minor issue because one is X+Y the other X-Y, which allows identification based on relative position. (When the lines are visible at all anyway.) $\endgroup$ Mar 17 at 20:24

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